May 5: The Real Story

… and this is what our world needs– for all of us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, connecting one heart to another, and acting to make our dreams take shape.

Last week, at The National Constitution Center on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, USA, more than 1,000 flags hung across the 90 foot floor to ceiling windows, around the 200 foot balcony rail, and across the pipe framework set up just for them and for the dreams they carried.

Last week hundreds of students, teachers, mothers, fathers, principals, administrators, and friends gathered to celebrate those dreams and what they stand for.

dsc_85333488954850161520845.jpg

Last week, volunteers arrived very early to set up tables, put out markers, organize games, create group art, connect the technology, staff the registration desk, and do whatever it took to make this happen for everyone from 11:00 am EST to 1:00 pm.

And then it all came down. Flags packed, some left as Travel Flags for the coming year, tables cleared, flag display nets down, hooks and suction cups removed, bags loaded out, and volunteers off to a well deserved lunch.

But the real story I learned started way way before all that.

To me, the real story started in Dallas, Texas with Candice Lindsay, an art teacher who found out about this program based in Philadelphia for kids sharing dreams.

Her school is located in central Dallas and serves children from 4 to 11 years old. Most of them walk to school. Most of them speak Spanish as well as English. Almost all of them qualify for a free lunch at school, an important part of their daily nutrition. Their principal is Alberto Herrera, and he understands this group. I met him when we all went out to dinner the Friday before the “big event” on Saturday.

For me, meeting Alberto Herrera, the principal, meeting Mike Daleo the PE teacher, and once again meeting Candice Lindsay, the art teacher and dream booster, as well as Shannon Kline the first grade teacher and Social and Emotional Learning Campus Champion–was the big event. For me, learning their story was more powerful than a thousand thousand flags of dreams.

Mike, Candice, Shannon, and Alberto ( left to right) at Eakins Oval in Philadelphia

A few weeks before I had had the privilege of standing before the whole school and community guests at the culminating program of Ecole Nouvelle Zorange in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I told the students that anybody can have a dream, but it takes hard work to make it real.

These educators from Dallas and their community were the example to me of the hard work to make it real.

When I met with them on Friday, I found out how they had started working last September with the Parent and School committee to show their students, each one of them, that their dreams matter.

That group organized school movie night –every week. For $3 you could come to the school on a Friday evening, bring a pillow, sit on the floor of the gym, pay a little more for some popcorn, and watch a family friendly movie projected on the wall. You could watch the same movie at home, but it wouldn’t be the same.

And so they started raising money to send each one of their 650 flags with dreams and 4 of their teachers to represent them in Philadelphia. That’s a lot of $3 contributions.

3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 . . .

In about January, Candice Lindsay started making hand stamped Dream Bracelets resembling like this.

For each one, often while the child watched, she would custom stamp the letters D R E A M into the metal of a washer connected to a colorful band that the student would wear. And she sold each for $5. She made about 500 of them, each by request. That’s 2,500 hand stamped letters in metal. She said her arm got tired sometimes.

Between these two efforts, and the effort of the school to have each and every one of their students create a flag for their dreams, the vision–the dream of bringing those dreams to Philadelphia, to make them and the community of Ansom Jones part of something bigger than themselves–started to take shape.

And at about 9 am on Saturday, May 5th, the team of four dedicated educators started the work of installing those dreams for all to see across the floor to ceiling window 90 feet long that faced the mall ending with the building where the USA started, Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

They filled that window, all 90 feet of it, so that, looking out to Independence Mall, you saw a wall of dreams that knew no bounds, that travelled from Texas to Philadelphia to shout out that this is what independence is all about, this is what the USA is about at its best, and this is what our world needs– for all of us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, connecting one heart to another, and acting to make our dreams take shape.

That’s a story I won’t forget and will keep on telling and building as you join me in the effort.

How fitting for Cinco de Mayo and Independence Hall, and every dreamer who aligns their values to their actions anywhere in the world.

Thank you, Ansom Jones Elementary!

What’s Behind a Dream?

While our dreams in life will change as we grow and our circumstances shift, when we align our evolving dreams to our values, they provide the ballast, the permanence, that’s critical for a steady course–now and in the future.

“The values and the dreams are in an alignment for a better tomorrow.”

–Gregory Mevs

On Friday I got my first tour of the school. I have been a teacher for 30 years, and I have an immediate sense when walking into a school if there’s respect and care. That was in the air at Ecole Nouvelle Zorange, and I could sense it the second I set foot out of the car with Christelle who brought me there.

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 4.04.10 PM

See on Google Maps

This school, situated on the edge of Cité Soleil, arguably one of the largest urban settlements of extreme poverty anywhere, serves 570 students from ages 5 to 17, and was established by the Prodev Foundation and the vision of its founder Maryse Pénette-Kedar. She formed the school in the wake of the devastating earthquake of 2010 to help rebuild Haiti by focusing on help that will last–education.

Christelle and I sat with the teachers from the 5th and 9th grades with whom we’d be working next week. The Talking Dream Line did its work just as it had in Jacmel, and with Christelle’s extremely able help, we collaborated on a plan for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the next week.

And on Monday we began–first with the 5th graders. We started with the present. Between my fractured French and Christelle’s ability to explain not just what I wanted to say but what I ought to say, we had a great time with a game I call Zip, Zap, Zop and they call Biff. Baff, Buff. If you hesitate and “loose” you had to tell me something you like–so we could get to know each other.

Biff, Baff, Buff, I explained, is about paying attention to right now. Our Dreamline program is about focusing on now AND on the future–what we dream of.

5th Haiti Talk Flags
5th Graders loved the talking Dreamline.

They got that the flags were the same size because we’re all equal. They got that they’re connected to a line because we need each other. And they got that kids everywhere, not just Haiti, not just Philadelphia, have dreams for the future. And that was it — until the next day.

Fast forward to the 9th graders, all 35 of them, and their teacher M. Donasson who, before I arrived, had already started working with the students. After a quick intro and look at a map showing places in the world where students have already declared and shared dreams on fabric, we moved right into what’s behind our dreams–values.

M. Donnasson had already worked with the group to brainstorm this list of values.

20180409_113921498611616685957361.jpg

9th graders have already been studying English for more than 2 years, so I added a language component by translating the French words into English.

Then Mr. Donasson gave a simple direction: “Choose three.” Choose three values from this list that mean a lot to you, that are values you live by, or want to live by. Write them on a flag. Decorate it. Hold it up.

20180409_1137206172398566431891304.jpg

I have worked with students in the process of sharing dreams continuously since 2003, and my work had extended to more than 120,000 students across 36 countries, including 42 states of the USA. But I had never tried this.

It was, in fact, the brainchild of a non-teacher, Gregory Mevs, who is Co-Chair of the Haitian West Indies Group and General Honorary Consul to Haiti. He helped us come to Haiti, and it was he who suggested that we might try Value Flags as an addition to our program. He’s very interested in values and the power that comes from action aligned to those values.

It worked. The Value Flags were an easy but powerful first step in thinking about a dream–a VALUE BACKED dream!

When we completed the project, the Value Flags were stapled, literally back to back, with the Dreamline flags to remind the students and everyone who saw it that dreams backed by values create a lasting and powerful force. And when we align them around the world, a force that can cause cause change as we perhaps have never seen.

In the words of Gregory Mevs, “The values and the dreams are in an alignment for a better tomorrow.”

As we move through life, our dreams can and should change, but our values remain more constant. By giving students the tangible experience of creating a Value Backed Dream, we give them a tool for learning an important lesson. While our dreams in life will change as we grow and our circumstances shift, when we align our evolving dreams to our values, they provide the ballast, the permanence, that’s critical for a steady course–now and in the future.

So stepping up to dreams through values was pedagogically sound–verified by both 5th and 9th graders in Haiti–and a brand new development of our program, an articulation of what has always been there behind every flag declaring a dream–the values that shine through aspiration and action.

Here’s what 5th and 9th graders at Ecole Nouvelle Zorange value–what I’d call a value portrait of the classes. The larger the word, the more students chose it for the value behind their dream.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 9.40.52 PM

My Barrier Becomes a Bridge

This is the second of a series of blog posts from my recent work in Haiti.  


The Language Barrier had become a Language Bridge. Because I couldn’t explain the program myself, Pepe explained it as he understood it and as he appreciated it, so it meant more to everyone–him, Ketchma, her family, and Sam. My only contribution was to push a button on my phone that brought the heartfelt words of students in the USA across the water and over the language barrier to touch the hearts of those hearing them in THEIR first language, not mine. What an amazing bridge that was.

Most Americans speak one language, English. Me included. As Michael Smolens, my close ally and founder of the Dotsub translation platform likes to remind people, only 6% of the world’s population speaks English as a first language. 94% do NOT speak English as a first language. True fact.

chart (1)

This fact hit me pretty quickly when I woke this morning and didn’t know where or how to get breakfast or how to ask. My hostess, Mme. Maryse, arranged for me to stay in the guest room at the house of a friend of hers, so that’s where I am. The person who owns the house is away, so it’s just me and people who work for her. They speak French and Haitian Creole. I don’t.

20180404_1733356865172640408861971.jpg
It is very comfortable.

Back in the USA I know, as a city dweller, that it’s not smart to just wander in a city if you don’t know where you are or where you are going. So I wasn’t going to just wander around on my first morning and was contemplating eating peanuts for breakfast when someone kindly appeared with coffee and breakfast for me on a tray. Just like that.

20180405_0800163226517044567918263.jpg

I had that sudden realization that being unable to communicate really heightens my capacity to receive the kindness of strangers with gratitude. More than I could imagine it turned out.

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 9.32.21 PM

Before I came to Haiti, I had the good fortune to be connected to an organization called PAZAPA. It means “step-by-step” in Creole. They are an NGO that has worked in Haiti for the past 30 years to support students living with disabilities and their families in and around the coastal city of Jacmel. Jacmel is about a two and a half hour drive south of Port-au-Prince. As it says on their website, it has been a widespread practice to call persons with disabilities “cocobai” which means “worthless” in Creole. PAZAPA, whose staff is 80% Haitian, has been working to reverse that culture in specific communities for 30 years. From what I saw today, they are doing it powerfully.

When I was invited to go with Pierre Paul Exilus, known as Pepe, on a PAZAPA village visit on my first day in Haiti, I jumped at the chance. We hope our future Dreamline work will take us into the villages where not only students, but entire communities, will participate in our growing Dreamline and Value Flags program. (More on that in another post.) This was a great chance to form a connection.

whatsapp

When I got a WhatsApp text from Pepe this morning, asking where I was in Jacmel, I had to tell him I was in Port-au-Prince. Since Pepe spoke to someone last night who knew where I was, I thought he knew where I was. Nope. Barrier.

But after WhatsApp calls to the US, then back to Port-Au-Prince, and with support from one of our sponsoring organizations, the PRODEV Foundation, I found myself in a van driven by Tiga, going through the seemingly endless sprawl of Port-au-Prince and then zig zagging back and forth and back and forth up the seemingly endless ascent of the mountains, flanked by farms, mangos for sale (there are something like 120 varieties of mangoes grown in Haiti I learned) and much more. At last we crested the range and could see the ocean in the distance. There was Jacmel. Tiga’s driving was amazing.

 

Back down at sea level, we entered the bustling streets of Jacmel and found the street we got as a destination. But where was the school? My dauntless driver Tiga called the school and then got a motorbike taxi to lead us there. That’s what they said to do. It worked.

School had been closed that day because of the recent heavy rains (they make some roads impassable). I got to see the setting, though, and learn about the programs they do year round which serve more than 200 families with children living with disabilities in the morning programming and village outreach, and an entirely different group who are all hearing impaired in the afternoon. Annie Lessage, who could speak my first (and only) language, was my guide. I got to speak with her and Jean Joseph Forgeas, the Site Administrator, about my program, share its written description in French, and then play some flags.

What do I mean by “play” some flags? Well, back in Philadelphia, the very kind parent of one of my former students created audio translations of ten Dreamline Flags before I left. I had five of those flags on a line with me, their five audio files on my phone, and a bluetooth speaker. So I could hang the flags, play them one at a time, and they cut through the language barrier like a hot knife through butter.

Haitian Creole


English

While all of this was happening, Pepe arrived after his day’s visits to the surrounding villages, so he took it in as well. And then he said we should get in the van and go. He wanted me to meet the PAZAPA village supervisor in Cayes-Jacmel and one specific family–the family of Ketchma, a girl with disabilities who, he said, was close to his heart.

Tiga was game and off we went, talking flags in my backpack, and headed out of Jacmel. The van slowed considerably when we drove off the main road onto a rugged dirt one, and then even more when we turned off onto another road. I’d say we were going maybe three miles an hour to manage the ruts.

But go we did, and we picked up Sam, in his fluorescent yellow PAZAPA shirt. Sam Jules is a person living with disabilities who is also the PAZAPA village supervisor. He lives in Cayes-Jacmel and is training as a runner with the dream of representing Haiti in the Paralympics one day. When we arrived at the home of Ketchma, there was some food cooking on a small outdoor fire, or so it seemed to me, and an older woman and some younger ones greeted us. Also a young man. Someone went to get Ketchma since she was’t there at the moment.

Ketchma arrived, smiled at Pepe, and learned from him why we were there. I saw a child just the age of the students I had been teaching in the USA only a few weeks before. I was teaching in an all girls school, and I had the teacher’s sense that she was a girl with an active, inquiring mind. And I think I was right.

20180405_1702528062428434423373208.jpg
Pepe, Sam, and Ketchma

Ketchma was offered a chair, along with me, and after I had tied my flag line to two posts, Pepe asked me to play the first one. He explained to Ketchma and her family what our program was, and I could see that when I played the words, many of which were about inclusivity, about respecting and accepting people universally, they hit home. And Pepe became the teacher. He asked Ketchma questions about what the poems meant. When she didn’t know or didn’t quite know, he didn’t tell her the answer. He asked me to play the recording again and then repeated the question. Lessons learned.

flag1
One of the Talking Flags

Haitian Creole


English

When we left, it was with a great feeling. On the way back to the office, Pepe told me he’d like to share our program with families in other villages and to share it with adult students to whom he teaches Sign Language. Our program had become his program. And now I know why.

20180405_172859895102617357127886.jpg

The Language Barrier had become a Language Bridge. Because I couldn’t explain the program myself, Pepe explained it as he understood it and as he appreciated it, so it meant more to everyone–him, Ketchma, her family, and Sam. My only contribution was to push a button on my phone that brought the heartfelt words of students in the USA across the water and over the language barrier to touch the hearts of those hearing them in THEIR first language, not mine. What an amazing bridge that was.

20180405_1847176733473064060430280.jpg

As we drove back across the mountains at sunset, I could see the physical beauty of this extraordinary place, and it only highlighted the inward beauty I had been privileged to witness.

It was 9:00 when we got back. I was starved.

Not Staying in Place

This is the first of a series of blog posts from my recent work in Haiti. The real date of this posting is April 21, but I am backdating it to April 4 when it was written and experienced. –Jeffrey Harlan


The opportunity we have before us–in Haiti and around the world– is how to support the translation of that thinking into actions that help all of us get “out of place” in relentless pursuit of our collective dreams.

April 4, 2018

Today marks the day when, 50 years ago, a bullet stopped the life of an individual who would not stay in place. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. moved people, both literally and figuratively. His movement has moved our world and still does. His legacy does not stop moving.
152433356687780858206086552337195602924460524724614.jpg
And today I am on a flight to Haiti where I will work with 5th and 9th grade teachers and students at Ecole Nouvelle Zorange to bring them our Dreamline program. By next Thursday I expect the students will have created moving expressions of their dreams and aspirations in words and art through Dreamline Flags , and they will have connected and shared those dreams with each other by displaying and celebrating the work in their school community, and far beyond by sharing and celebrating them through the Dreamline app and website.

Screen Shot 2018-04-21 at 2.06.43 PM
I am already very moved by the generosity and vision that has brought me to this place from so many individuals–by Maryse Pennette-Kedar who not only extended the invitation to work at the school she founded but also is hosting me and providing translation for me over these next nine days–by Gregory Mevs, Co chair of the West Indies Group, who is also supporting this trip–by the two friends who, over the past weeks, designed and built from scratch a “talking Dreamline” so when you touch a button next to the flag you hear it from a speaker in Hatian Creole–and by the parent volunteer who readily, and on short notice, made audio translations of flags into Hatian Creole, so the voices of students from Alaska, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Shanghai, Zambia, and Macedonia will talk directly to their counterparts in Haiti. We are moving together. We are not staying in place.

20180403_2022216667489769296829179.jpg
“Talking Dreamline” wiring, circuitry, fabric, and all,–battery powered and portable–packed in my bag along with everything else we will need.

I think that for so many students, the harshest reality of their world are the voices that say:
“Sit down.”
“Stay in place.”
“Not you.”
“You can’t do that.”
“No one can do that.”

They are the voices that cause students and their dreams to shut down, to stay quiet, to stay in place.

Dreamline disrupts that, creates a safe place to disrupt that.

And why does that matter? Why does it matter now?

While on the one hand, our schools may tell students, “Study hard and you can achieve what you want.” or “You can do anything, just try hard.” — there are so many other messages that say, “Stay put, stay in your place, do your job, follow the directions.” When we look at the daily experience of students’ lives in school, how many messages say “Go for it,” and how many messages say “Stay in place?”

It is my experience that we lean very heavily on the “stay in place” side. I think it’s one of the key things young children have to learn–literally first–to actually sit in one place as part of being in school, and then they learn it in other ways as they get older.

In the common culture that most of us live in, in the complex structures that make cities work, and so much that stems out from them, it’s actually really important that things, to a certain extent, stay in place.

For better or worse, equitably or inequitibly, our common culture provides food for billions, housing for billions, and some kind of communal life. It functions because, in an overall scheme of things, people stay in place, fulfill roles that make it work.  Like any machine, the pieces need to stay in place or they don’t interact with each other–they don’t work. Parts out of place is one of the ways we define “broken” on a mechanical level.

I imagine you can see where I’m going with this by now. The “machine” that’s our common culture has a few serious problems that we’re starting to notice when we see things like the rising numbers of very poor, of food insecure individuals, of what we hear weekly on the news about climate disasters we seem to be causing.  Or we see it’s not working when people get “out of place,” taking guns to their workplace–or schools–and using them.

This is a large target to hit, so I don’t need to go on much about it–but it is why I think Dreamline matters.

Dreamline provides a place for students to get “out of place” and safely experiment with their thinking. The opportunity we have before us–in Haiti and around the world– is how to support the translation of that thinking into actions that help all of us get “out of place” in relentless pursuit of our collective dreams.

Dr. King did not stay in place for one second. His life was ended by a bullet, but the dreams are moving –now.
20180404_044321444408134714466225.jpg

 

%d bloggers like this: